Brine may be more destructive than salt

ELKINS -The brine solution used to make area roads safer for driving may ironically have caused damage to both roads and vehicles this winter, officials said.

During preparations for the winter season, the West Virginia Department of Transportation prepared a special concoction used to pre-treat roads and make the best, most cost-efficient use of salt.

"It's no different than the salt that is used in the roadways," Mike Moran, District 8 engineer for the DOT, said of the brine solution, which was used throughout this winter. "The same material (sodium chloride) is mixed with city water and run through a process to establish a specific concentration that is good for melting the ice.

"It saves on salt. We use less salt when we use brine. It is only used when temperatures allow. We mix city water with salt to produce it. It has a lower, more controlled concentration than salt."

Unfortunately, some residents are now complaining about damage to their vehicles they believe was caused by the brine.

The problems include rust or corrosion due to prolonged exposure to concentrations of salt used to treat the winter roads.

Kent Winn, service manager at Elkins Fordland, said a number of customers have brought up the issue.

"We've seen people coming in with rust underneath their car or on the brake lines," Winn said. "This (brine) stuff is sprayed as a liquid on the roads and then cars drive over it and it splashes into every crack and crevice.

"They just started using this stuff, so we don't really know if it will have a lasting effect. My suggestion would be to tell people to wash their vehicles regularly to protect them from potential rust."

Back in October, Moran told The Inter-Mountain the brine had been tested with good results.

"Based on the success on Interstate 79, management decided to invest in the mixers to make the salt brine," Moran said. "The dry salt tends to kick off the side of the road, but we get good results and the salt brine stays where it is put on the road.

"There is no 'one case fixes all' - it depends on the conditions, the temperature and the snow. You may pre-treat and not get any snow after all."

Ryan L. Parrack, a local agent with Nationwide Insurance, said insurance companies do not generally cover vehicle damage caused by road salt.

"It would likely come down to proof," Parrack said. "You would have to prove that the salt was the cause and that's incredibly difficult. From what I've gathered from claims adjusters, it would likely come down to maintenance.

"The owner and operator of the vehicle is responsible for maintaining the vehicle and exposure to salt on the roads would fall under the general wear and tear of the vehicle. It would be up to the driver to take the precautions to prevent any sort of rusting as a result of exposure to road salt."

Although some residents would be happy if the brine was never used again, it is likely to be even more prevalent next winter.

"We are looking to try it out this year," said city of Elkins Operations Manager Bob Pingley. "We didn't have the necessary equipment prepared. We are going to try it out over the summer and try it next year.

"It's pre-dissolved salt, that's all it is. Rock salt doesn't do any good until it dissolves, so you are just cutting out a step by using it."

Both Moran and Pingley said they must find creative and cost-effective ways to conserve the salt levels used by their respective agencies during the winter; experimenting with brine and even mixing gravel into the concoction are the results of that necessity.

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